My view on education

We are living in the time when changes happen very quickly. Many things that are taught in schools today may not be relevant in the near future. If we look at all the major fields that are taught in college today, some will need to be updated. There are so many changes in science, engineering, and technology based on new theories, new discoveries, new innovations, and new researches. The question is what do we need to teach students today so they can be prepared for the future? Of course, all students need basic foundations but they also need the ability to go deeply into certain areas to understand how things work so they can be able to apply what they know to solve problems. Today students who can apply the scientific knowledge and use critical thinking to solve problem will have better career opportunity and get better-paying job.

As educators, we must ask ourselves: “Should we teach students what we know or help them to learn something new? Should we train them the same way we were trained many years ago or help them to discover things that are important in the future? Should we ask them to memorize certain dates, certain events in the past as we were trained or allow them to “Google” them from their smart phones? Should we have them used textbooks that were written fifteen years ago or asking them to go online for e-books or websites that contain the latest information? These are serious questions and need to be addressed by each of us individually.

Traditional education focuses on providing “general knowledge” to students. In this system, students must learn things in a broad sense. They know a little about history, a little about geography, a little about literature, a little about arts, and a little about sociology beside their major field of study. However, it also takes time away from the limited time students have in school. Today in many countries, these general knowledge areas are being eliminated since these know ledges can be obtained from the internet, websites, online tutorials, and e-books etc. so students can spend more time to go deeply into their major field of study. The general knowledge for college students today are mostly focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). College students must take courses in mathematics, statistics, logic, physics, biology, chemistry, and computer programming regardless of their field of study.

Today students must develop critical thinking skills to analyze and make decision of current events. Students must learn to separate “facts” from “fiction”, “data” from “assumptions”, “biases” from “truth” then come up with their own conclusions. They must read more, much more than college students in the past as there are so much information available and they must understand how the physical, cultural and technical worlds function together. Only then students could become active participants in this technology driven world. With information technology, there is an explosion of information everywhere. If we look back five years ago, Facebook, and Twitter did not even exist but today more than half of people on earth are using it. Ten years ago, mobile phone was a luxury for the very rich but today over two billion people on earth have mobile phone. The internet was invented in 1969 with only two connected computers but today it connects over four billion computers. Together with internet technology, information has double the amount every few months. Facebook stores 50 terabytes of information each day. Twitter processes 35 megabytes each hour. Google process 20 petabytes every twelve hours and online stores processes 2.6 petabytes each hour etc.

In this era of “Big data”, memorization style education will not work. It is being replaced by logical analytic style of learning where students are asked to discuss current issues to come up with solution rather than just memorize facts. By exposing students to a lot of information, theories, facts and data they must be able to analyze and draw conclusion quickly. That is why as educators, we must decide what should be better taught during the limited time when students are in school under our guidance. Of course, no one can teach everything and no student can learn everything during that time so we must focus our effort on encouraging students to develop a lifelong learning attitude so learning will continue after they leave school.

For years, educators have discussed about how to keep a “balanced education” to develop a “Total person”. But with the fast pace of technological change, I believe that we should focus our teaching on the critical thinking and problem solving skills first to prepare students for the future needs so they should be able to keep up with technology changes, get a good jobs, and be a contributing members of our society. Of course, as they are maturing and have a good job, they should be able to find their own interests and pursue their own passions like music, arts, literature and history etc. At that time they will be able to lead a lifelong study and pursuit their own area of interests.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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